Lillard Adds Game Winner to Resume
By mikebarrett Posted in: Pelicans
A homestand that started with a humbling loss to the Sacramento Kings, has now turned into a three-game winning streak for the Trail Blazers that has been highlighted by a win over the San Antonio Spurs, and a game-winning shot by Damian Lillard with three-tenths of a second left that saved the day against the New Orleans Hornets.
Yes, there were several great performances that helped the Blazers win their 11th game of the season on Sunday night, but Lillard gets top billing, simply because he absolutely turned what would have been a big, blown lead, into an exhilarating victory. All in all it wasn't a bad way for him to follow up a 29-point game against San Antonio, on the national stage on Thursday.
We positioned this night, along with everyone else, as the night the two front runners for Rookie of the Year would finally meet head to head. And, even though Lillard's final numbers weren't dramatically better than those of Anthony Davis, the fact that it was Lillard being lifted in the air by teammates afterward means he takes the commanding lead in this race.
Let's take a second to remind ourselves that Lillard has only played in 23 regular-season NBA games. Yes, I know it seems he's been around a lot longer than that.
We also have to remind ourselves that the Trail Blazers held a 16-point lead in this game late in the third quarter. Then, perhaps, got a little cute, lost a little intensity, and had us all sweating until the final splash down at the end of that long Lillard three.
Even though Lillard's star was shining the brightest at the end, there are others who belong in that spotlight.
J.J. Hickson is doing some ridiculous things. When Portland swooped in and stole him from the Golden State Warriors at the trade deadline last year, they knew he was a willing scorer, and was certainly athletic, but his resume didn't say anything about his defense and rebounding. Well, he's now put together five-consecutive double-double performances, and that gives him 13 in just 23 games this season. On this night, Hickson put 16 rebounds with his 24 points. Where in the heck would this team be without Hickson?
Nic Batum is still suffering from significant lower-back pain. He gutted out the San Antonio game, and not only hit the dagger three, but also blocked a Tony Parker attempt in the lane in the final minute (before hitting two free throws). His encore? How about 11 points, 10 assists, 5 blocks, 5 steals, and 5 rebounds. Batum became the first Blazer in franchise history to record at least 10 assists, 5 blocks, and 5 steals in a game, and the first NBA player since 2001 to accomplish it. You can qualify that as a "historic" line.
Luke Babbitt also deserves a mention, as he followed up his 12-point night against San Antonio, with 10 against New Orleans. He was also involved in the game-winning play, as he took the in-bounds pass, handed it to Lillard, and then set the screen that gave Damian the room he needed to rise and fire.
LaMarcus Aldridge, before leaving the game in the final minute with a sprained ankle, scored 20 points, and was very solid once again. We watched the replay of his ankle rolling over, and didn't think it looked terribly serious. The first thing he asked me in the locker room after the game was "how did it look on the replay?" He had the ankle wrapped, and did have crutches next to him, but it didn't seem like something that would keep him out an extended period of time. I'm no doctor (even though I occasionally play one on TV), but it didn't appear to be terribly swollen, and it's probably a good thing he'll have four full days before the Blazers play again. It'll be very sore, but Thursday is a long ways off.
Wesley Matthews surprisingly started the game for Portland, and hit his first three-point attempt, but just said his ailing hip didn't feel right and took himself out of the game. Like Aldridge, he'll have a few more days to get right before this team plays again.
By the way, and this sounds like a no-brainer stat, but when the Blazers shoot well they win. They are now 9-1 on the season when shooting over 45 percent. They shot 46.3 percent in this game.
With the win, the Blazers are now 11-12 on the season. Given all the new pieces, new system, new coach, and remembering that they played 12 of their first 19 on the road, count me as pretty satisfied with that mark. For a young team it's about on-the-job training, and there's really not a better way to put that. As we've said, over and over again, it's a process. Count this as another step in the right direction.